During the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, people living on the south side of the Mohawk River were facing a difficult dilemma: the nearest accessible hospital was as much as 40 miles away, in Little Falls.
Bridges over the river, and those crossing the Schoharie Creek, were shut down, as was the state Thruway.
The need for some medical facility on the south side of the river is among several ideas circulating among members of the NY Rising committee who assembled at the Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy on Thursday.
The committee, one of several formed in areas of the state hit hard by severe weather over the past few years, is working to develop a plan of action that could garner at least $9 million in federal funding to be administered by the N.Y. Department of State.
Announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, the NY Rising initiative is aimed at taking action now that could lessen the difficulties communities faced during storms including Irene and Lee in 2011 and Sandy in 2012.
Thursday’s meeting was set up to elicit thoughts from the general public, but nobody showed up. Committee members said they intend to make other efforts to gather input before an application is submitted for funding in the spring of 2014.
“People know parts of this city, parts of this town we don’t know,” said Dan Weaver, an Amsterdam businessman seated on the committee. “It’s important to have as many heads together as possible.”
The town of Florida basically lost its hamlet of Lost Valley during Irene, which left residents in the town’s other hamlet, Fort Hunter, mucking out their homes.
An earthen flood wall collapsed under the pressure of the raging Schoharie Creek, sending water gushing into the historic Schoharie Crossing site and leaving residents unable to draw water from their contaminated wells.
Town Supervisor William Strevy said the availability of funding could go a long way to address both situations: the town already put plans together to bolster the flood wall and to create a municipal water supply for the neighborhood.
Requests for funding for these projects went unanswered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said, but they still remain viable ideas for strengthening these communities.
The levee would cost about $500,000 to enlarge and strengthen, Strevy said, and a water system could cost $3 million — both of which are “substantial amounts of money” for the town of about 2,840 people.
As it stands now, he said, people in these hamlets are living in fear of what will happen next, and that means they’re not investing in their properties.
“I’m hoping if we can make a safer place to stay and live, we can reverse some of that thought,” Strevy said.
Acting Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Rick Sager said getting some medical capabilities on the south side of the Mohawk River is a concrete idea.
“It was a long ways to another facility,” he said.
In general, he said, the emergency response capabilities currently in place are solid. Even the need for more bright-orange cones and barrels to block off roads was met by the Red Cross.
But there are critical facilities in flooding’s path, he said, and he believes serious thought should be given to protecting places of employment from the rivers and creeks.
Amsterdam Community and Economic Development director Robert von Hasseln said he believes the NY Rising program’s setup can yield important, dual-goal improvements in Amsterdam.
For one, the city’s Public Works facility is within the flood plain. Moving it uphill would protect the asset, he said.
It would also free up the space, making it possible to remove the unsightly facility from the city’s eastern entrance off state Route 5 and replace it with something else.
Developing a parking area on the city’s South Side is another idea that could yield more than one benefit, von Hasseln said.
It would provide a staging area for first responders in time of emergencies while making parking available to visitors looking to take in the views of the Mohawk River from the pedestrian bridge to be built, he said.
People interested in learning more about the program can find information online at http://stormrecovery.ny.gov/nyrcr/community/city-amsterdam-town-amsterdam-and-town-florida.